Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Web Analytics World is Shrinking

The web analytics market just got a whole lot smaller with the news of Omniture’s intention to acquire Visual Sciences for $394 million. It was no secret that Visual Sciences was up for sale, yet speculators believed that a software goliath without a pre-existing analytics solution would enter the market with a quick pick-up of Visual Sciences. The convergence of these technologies will not happen overnight and integration may prove to be the lynchpin of this relationship.

Omniture’s acquisition strategy includes geographic expansion (Instadia), strategic technology additions (Touch Clarity and Offermatica) and domestic consolidation for financial leverage. This newest deal certainly strengthens the fulcrum for financial leverage and succeeds in enhancing the technology additions through the unique capabilities Visual Sciences brings to web analytics.

Considering Omniture’s expanding feature set of strategic technologies and its “Business Optimization” messaging, I question whether Omniture will become the marquee platform for digital marketers. Their analytics horsepower and growing internal capabilities notwithstanding, the burgeoning Genesis Network is seeding its alliances throughout the digital marketing technology landscape. As this evolving ecosystem takes shape, it will be interesting to witness conflicting forces of buy-in/rejection on the client side and dismissal/competition from vendors. Buckle up and stay tuned, because this will get interesting.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Rockies Make the First Error in World Series

I can’t resist a blog posting on the World Series since my beloved Red Sox made it to the big show once again. I’ve written about the correlation between baseball’s Sabermetrics and web analytics in the past, but yesterday’s news of the site crash and unavailable tickets caused me to think about proper site planning and the repercussions of poor performance on the customer experience.

During the first 90 minutes of online ticket sales, 8.5 million page requests caused the Rockies ticket system to fail. A spokesman for the Colorado Rockies blamed the crash on an “external malicious attack”. Although automated bots present a significant problem for the online ticket industry, poor load balancing and insufficient server capacity is more likely the true cause of yesterday’s failure. Most eager fans received DNS errors, but slow-loading pages and cookie blocking also contributed to the problem. Both the and the sites are hosted and maintained by, which was expected to handle the increased load. Yet, the Rockies failed to understand that their traffic was redirected to severs managed by their external ticket vendor, Paciolan who also manages ticket sales for the Padres and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

Sites that offer sales exclusively through the online channel have justifiable cause for decreasing costs and maximizing efficiencies, yet the infrastructure must handle the task. Performance monitoring and load balancing services from companies like Keynote and Gomez alleviate many of these issues, but still don’t account for advanced preparation and a complete understanding of system operations and partner capabilities.

I won’t go so far as to say that the Rockies ticket error is a harbinger for things to come in this 2007 World Series, but it should serve as a wake up call for retailers or any site operators anticipating increased load on their pages this holiday season.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Acquisitions Continue in the Testing Market

Interwoven announced yesterday its intentions to acquire Optimost for $52 million in cash, marking the second acquisition in the burgeoning multivariate testing market in just 45 days.

The acquisition capitalizes on resounding synergies between the Interwoven’s content management solution and Optimost’s multivariate testing capabilities. As the web shifts to an increasingly dynamic content delivery model, it makes perfect sense to interject a solution that determines which content is most effective using a testing methodology. This capability aligns with Interwoven’s segmentation and analytics solution by providing a vehicle to deliver content to specific segments and optimize the message to achieve the greatest relevance.

The companies stated their intentions to provide Optimost’s managed testing solution, (delivered as Software as a Service) independently, or in conjunction with Interwoven’s content management offerings. This news will have minimal impact on existing Optimost customers, except that for those currently shopping for a CMS, who may now narrowed their short list of vendors. Interwoven customers will have access to a testing solution that will presumably have the tightest integration with their CMS and may entice non-adopters to begin testing their sites.

With just a handful of private multivariate testing vendors left, expect to see the remaining solutions usurped by larger companies seeking to interject science into their conversions and content delivery processes.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Live From eMetrics

The eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit kicked off Monday, hosting approximately 550 marketing practitioners, vendors, analysts and gurus in Washington D.C. Some of the themes emerging from the event include measuring engagement, attribution and methods for capturing metrics on new mediums. Ian Thomas of Microsoft previewed the Gatineau tool, which is a free analytics measurement solution aimed at quantifying metrics critical to advertisers. The solution integrates with the MS advertiser toolset and enables segmentation, calculation of conversion values and visualization of behavioral data.

Avinash spoke on Bouncy, Bouncy, Bounce metrics stating that most search analytics metrics focus on the wrong issues and can be dramatically improved by finding out why customers who bounce “come to your site, puke and leave”.

Google spoke up on Day two with news of an upgrade to the Google Analytics product that includes site search analytics, event tracking and tagless link tracking. These developments expose users of GA to increased visibility into their customer on-site behavior and the ability to measure RIA’s using Flash, Flex, Ajax or Silverlight with strategic purpose. Brett Crosby outlined an event hierarchy that includes Objects, Actions and Labels, which are fully integrated with clickstream data within Google Analytics. Additionally, Google announced a long awaited update to its Urchin Software with a renewed pricing structure and added functionality.

Jim Sterne, the fearless leader of the Summit conducted an informal poll on Day 3 to determine exactly where web analytics and optimization attendees report within their organizations…Marketing, IT, Line of Business or Other. Results determined by my show of hands estimate showed that Marketing is leading and closely followed by the undefined Other group. IT departments had very few direct reports attending this event alluding to the fact that marketers are increasingly driving the business decisions with data collected using analytics tools.

With a half day still to go, everyone I’ve talked with seems to view the event as a great success in terms of information shared, value delivered and networking opportunities. Emetrics succeeds again in creating an environment for professionals who share a common passion for analytics, multivariate testing, optimization and the pursuit of knowledge through customer interactions.

Friday, October 5, 2007

My Computer Doesn’t Know Me Anymore

So what happens when personalized web promotions or on-site behavioral targeting tactics miss the mark? Technologies designed to improve the online experience by making it more relevant based on user interactions and predictive modeling can have negative repercussions leading to frustration and abandonment when assumptions are false.

I started thinking about these technological miscalculations when my Uncle explained that his Netflix account persistently recommended foreign films based on selections he made upon initiating his membership. He likened the recommendations to unwanted advances from a foreign temptress and has been anonymously patronizing his local Blockbuster ever since. Granted, Netflix offers several methods for customers to refine preferences and continues to hone in on a users’ specific taste through ratings and explicit information requests. However, we as humans are inherently lazy, and often times a laborious process of correction is more than we wish to invest, especially for the casual user. While Netflix is arguably leading the market in terms of allowing users to refine their interests and making effective collaborative recommendations, other methods of targeting are more difficult to correct, especially for non-savvy web users.

Take for example my Mom; years ago she diligently researched her doctoral thesis on minorities in education by venturing to numerous online and offline sources covering diversity, multi-culturalism and blacks. After some time she began to receive emails offering Black Education Journals and other periodicals at no charge. In this case the targeting was correct in identifying her interests and she accepted the offers, but the implicit assumptions of my Mom’s ethnicity were wrong. So, when subsequent emails started to arrive inviting her to join black singles networks, the targeting couldn’t have been further off base. The problem was that my Mom had no recourse for correcting the profile of her online self and still receives off-target emails and misdirected online promotions to this day.

In my own experience, I was issued a company laptop that previously belonged to another employee. Upon my first several Google searches, I was puzzled by the fact that all of my results were coming up from the UK. I was accessing the site through a North American IP address, yet after numerous searches Google was determined to prioritize UK results. I attempted to correct the situation using Google’s interface, but at that time found no course of action to inform the site that I was in the US and seeking US-based information. Try as I might, there was no correcting the problem and eventually I deleted my cookies (against my analytics-induced nature) and acquiesced to starting anew.

So, the moral of this series of observations is that sites providing personalized or targeted content must also provide a way out. Do this by offering methods for visitors to explicitly state preferences and by empowering visitors with clear messaging on how to turn off or modify behavioral targeting. In an age where tuning out unwanted advertising and content is increasingly prevalent, don’t you want to accurately target those that are listening?